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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:


Guest tom baker

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Guest tom baker

the title fireman/trimmer was a rank/title my great grand father had.

The fireman bit is self explanatory,but what is a trimmer?????????????????


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Moved the coal about in the stokehold to keep the ship in trim and on an even keel.

Regards Charles

Equally important, if not more important, ensures that the bunkers close to the stokehold / boiler room are filled with coal so that the firemen can fire the furnaces efficiently. Often also got lumbered (in ships that required it) with clearing the ash out of the way. Normally, coal fired ships had to clean the fires periodically - raking out ash, removing lumps of bat etc. Slows the ship temporarily, but if not done, the fires don't draw properly and the speed falls more slowly but inexorably. Also have to "blow soot" to clear the flues. All these jobs tended to increase the size of the "black gang", many of whom would finish up with a title such as "fireman/trimmer".

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  • 1 year later...

From a website [RN/MOD] on navy slang:

"The rating of Leading Stoker was introduced into the Royal Navy in 1842; Stoker-and-Coal-Trimmer in 1844; Second Class Stoker and Coal Trimmer in 1860 (this became "Second Class Stoker" in 1864); Chief Stoker appeared in 1964 but ceased at the end of 1868 on the introduction in 1869 of the rating of Engine Room artificer. Chief Engine Room Artificer came in 1877 and Chief Stoker (again) in 1885. "Stoker and Coal Trimmer" became "Stoker in 1900 and Stoker Petty Officer appeared in 1907. "Stoker Mechanic" replaced "Stoker" in the rating titles in May, 1947 (a "non-substantive" rating of Stoker Mechanic was in existence from 1872 to 1907). "Stoker Mechanic" in the rating titles was replaced by "Engineering Mechanic" in March, 1955. "

I have details of a Mercantile Marine chap pre WWI as 'fireman', later as 'marine fireman', and again, in a commandeered liner converted for RN use as 'trimmer'. Probably 'stoker' would sum them up, in civilian terms. All would be in the hot, dangerous stokehold of a steam powered vessel, with poor prospects of escape if torpedoed etc.


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In the Royal Navy ‘stoker’ was used for all ratings in the engine room (even on oil fired ships); the merchant marine used 2 titles fireman and trimmer. The fireman’s role was primarily to tend the boilers and ensure they ran efficiently, as the fireman of a steam train would do on land. The trimmer’s role was to ensure that the fireman has adequate supplies of coal near at hand, whist also ensuring that the trim of the ship wasn’t altered unevenly: coal bunkers ran the length of the ship and on both sides so if all the coal was taken from just one at a time the ship would be unbalanced. Sounds like an easy job doesn’t it? The access points were cramped; they had to dig coal out and shovel it into wheel barrows, then wheel those along narrow tracks. All this without lighting, extractor fans for the coal dust, air conditioning in the tropics or heating in cold climes and with the ship moving or often pitching and rolling They often ended up battered and bruised and with coal dust in any open wounds.

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